If Putin gives back Donbas, it will be a "Trojan horse" for Ukraine

Author : Alexander J. Motyl

Respondent : Alexander J. Motyl

Source : 112 Ukraine

Alexander J. Motyl: Ukraine might develop only without Donbas and Crimea
10:00, 9 January 2017

Read the original text at

112 Agency

American historian and writer of Ukrainian origin Alexander J. Motyl has warned that Russia might start a major land war against Ukraine, using aircraft. The scientist drew such a conclusion on the basis of loud statements of Russian experts, who often voiced the position of the state leadership in the dictatorship countries. In an interview with "Apostrophe" Mr. Motyl said that the probability of such a scenario is still small, but Ukraine should be ready for it and to the fact that the state should abandon Donbas and Crimea in order to survive.

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Mr. Motyl, in your blog, you touched this issue: how serious should Ukraine take a threat of Russian military offensive in Donbas, taking into account the Russian television discourse on how easily would Russia invade Ukrainian cities one by one?

The probability of invasion, apparently, is still small, but Ukraine should be ready for everything, especially a bad case scenario. A rational leader would not launch an offensive, because it would be stressful or ever dreadful for his state. However, the main problem is that we cannot say exactly, how rational Putin is. Furthermore, Trump might consciously or unconsciously encourage Putin to increase his zone of influence. Despite everything, the greatest threat to the Baltic States and Belarus is their small size and weakness. They are easy to capture, in contrast to Ukraine.

It seems like they "throw a fishing rod" to test the waters for the possibility of such actions; what response might they have?

West almost does non-existent: the EU in crisis, Trump’s America is hypernationalistic. If Russia conducts offensive against the Baltic states, Belarus, Ukraine, the world will react with some loud protest, perhaps the sanctions might become tougher. Ad Putin, of course, is well aware of it.

Related: Russia-Japan territorial dispute on Kuril Islands: lessons for Crimea

Can we still hope that the NATO countries will not allow Russia to occupy Ukraine?

Never. It would allow and someone would even say: "So what? Ukraine was on the brink of survival, Ukrainians believed that nothing changed, so, let it disappear."

But the Baltic countries are NATO members. Do you believe that the Alliance countries will not protect them from the Russian Federation?

United States, Germany, or France would never do it. The British and the Poles could, but not themselves. Therefore, no one will come to the aid of the Balts, and they certainly know it.

In other words, Ukraine should not use a military way to solve the conflict or, at least, keep away from invasion of certain Donbas regions, because there is a risk of the devastating Russian response?

Absolutely! Firstly, it would be difficult to fight off the 35000th army of heavily armed militants. Secondly, Russia's response would mean a full-scale war, which Ukraine will never win. The military way of solving the conflict is equivalent to suicide.

Related: Ukrainian representative to UN compared Israeli settlements with occupation of Crimea

What is the role of Lukashenko and Belarus in the overall plan of Putin? Why there are forces in Belarus?

If Belarus is invaded, Ukraine and Lithuania will be surrounded, and a front against Poland will be opened. And the West would not say anything...

How do you assess the proposal of Victor Pinchuk (published in The Wall Street Journal) to "temporary" change Crimea, the dreams of EU and NATO membership, to agree to local elections in occupied Donbas and so on in the name of peace in the eastern part of Ukraine?

Refuse from EU is nonsense, especially since Putin himself is not against it. Refusing NATO is good, because this would not happen. No one in NATO does not expect there to Ukraine, and Ukraine should finally understand it. Of course, Ukraine should renounce NATO only in exchange for something. So from this point of view, Pinchuk is quite right, because he understands that Ukraine came to a standstill and has no strategy for Donbas and Crimea.

Related: Austria to allocate €2 million for Donbas residents

You say that Ukraine should renounce NATO only in exchange for something. Do you believe that Ukraine can really get "something" from the Russian Federation, when the informal arrangements are not enough, as well as the formal? What Ukraine could reach in this way?

Everything depends on the format of negotiations. Assume that they include Ukraine, Russia, Germany, USA, France, the EU, and NATO. For not joining NATO, Ukraine might require getting Western weapons, access to Western markets, reducing western tariffs, and western financial assistance. Let Russia also agree on something. Of course, Putin cannot be trusted, but let him sign international documents.

Related: Kurz: Improving living conditions in Donbas is main OSCE SMM aim

And how do you evaluate the commentary of Konstantin Eliseev on Pinchuk’s article in the WSJ?

Eliseev have correctly stressed that Ukraine should be oriented to the West, but, unfortunately, he does not offer any real solutions to the conflict.

In summer, you have stated that the best possible option for Ukraine is the preservation of the current situation in the east of the country, followed by the further removal of Donbas. Have you changed your opinion since then?

The stalemate in the East means that Russia must pay a lot of money to keep Donbas. It is useful for Ukraine. In contrast, reintegration would instantly bankrupt Ukraine, would stop the reforms, Ukraine’s western vector, and movement to democracy. I am therefore convinced that the rejecting Donbas territories would be useful for Ukraine, which should go further and develop, as if Donbas was not a part of the country.

And what about Crimea?

The same thing is with Crimea. Ukraine has four strategic priorities: survival, strengthening of security, reforms and Western path promotion, and preservation of democracy. They can be realized only without Donbas and Crimea. The situation should be taken without pathos, with a calm approach to these issues.

Related: Strategy for integration of Crimea into Ukraine presented in Istanbul

Trump may radically change this Ukraine’s romanticize attitude to the questions. Because in 2017, there is the possibility of any agreement between Trump and Putin regarding Crimea and Donbas. And Ukraine has to make clear what it wants and what it does not want. Imagine this scenario: Putin declares that he is ready to give back Donbas. It will be a real "Trojan horse." Ukraine should calmly say, "No, thank you."

But the Ukrainian society, as evidenced by opinion polls, it is not ready for such a radical decision to abandon Crimea and Donbas. Many people will see this as a betrayal, especially the IDPs who still have the hope to return home.

That is the whole trouble. Incidentally, the same situation was in Germany and in Israel. Kyiv has two opportunities: to have the courage to explain why it is necessary (what is unlikely to happen), or follow the old line –  to declare loudly about the need of reintegration and do nothing, thus giving occupied Donbas the opportunity to disengaged from Ukraine. Of course, if Putin show a willingness to give back the occupied territories, Kyiv, for the sake of its own self-preservation, they should grant them a confederal status, almost complete sovereignty. These areas should even have their own political system, budget, own taxes without representation in Parliament. In a word, let them be only formally part of Ukraine and do not impede Ukraine.

Related: Over half of Ukrainians support EU integration - poll

Do you believe that the Ukrainians in the occupied territories eventually would ever lose the illusion that the Russian Federation cares about them?

Maybe, we should put another question. Would they ever support Ukraine and become its real citizens? I doubt.

Ukrainian authorities declare the fight for the occupied territories, but de facto do little to make Donbas population chose the Ukrainian side. First of all, the access to objective information and social security. Does Ukraine really fight for the minds of Donbas people?

Why should this fight take place at all? Let the people just live there. Let Ukraine develop without them, because otherwise, it would not develop. Let Ukraine become stronger, safer, richer, freer, and it should attract all the resources for it. Meanwhile, let Putin spend his penny for Donbas...

Related: Klimkin: Plan on reintegration of Donbas to be presented shortly

Would the role of the key world players change in 2017, would the United States, the EU, China, and Russia radically change their behavior?

The EU will become even more powerless, it would lose its influence. US will become more hypernationalistic, it would strengthen its war against terror, becoming the victim of reinforced terrorist attacks; the US will turn away from Europe. The situation in China would remain unchanged. Russia can go on the offensive. Baltic States, Belarus, Georgia, after all – Ukraine, might become possible victims.

In your opinion, how real is the big deal between Putin and Trump? What is the most likely scenario, taking into account Trump’s statements?

I am not sure that they will be able to sign some big deal. This is not the XIX century, when the kings have marked the borders. Now it is too complicated. But Trump may cancel the sanctions, informally recognize annexation of Crimea, suspend military and financial assistance to Ukraine. EU may go after him. And Ukraine will remain isolated with its ambitious demands for immediate return of Donbas and Crimea. It is possible that over time, Trump will quarrel with Putin. But in spite of all, Ukraine will remain without a strategy, without a plan for survival.

Related: Moscow insists on Donbas integration in Ukraine

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